Brian Orakpo not only hosts the "The Brian Orakpo Leukemia Golf Classic" presented by Omnitec Solutions, INC for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (www.lls.org) golf event, but he has immersed himself in truly being a key figure of an outstanding organization dedicated to fighting blood cancers.
The Redskins outside linebacker, recovering from a 2nd surgical procedure to his pectoral muscle, took over the event from Jason Campbell a few years ago and as the sign at the very top of the golf course would tell you, this is more than just about good publicity or just lending his name.
The sign - a very nice gesture and tribute from a grieving family who just recently lost their son, Brendan Kelly - reads "In Memory of Brendan Kelly - From The Entire Kelly Family....Thank You. Brian!!"
The sign has a picture of Orakpo and young Brendan in happier moments, but you can tell that the two developed a strong connection. In addition to honoring Brendan's legacy, Orakpo and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (@LLSNatCap) honored another "Patient Hero" named Tyler. Tyler, a 12 year old young man who has been fighting acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) since November of 2011.
Orakpo is clearly all-in for a organization that does so much good for so many people. He's also on-board for an organization that drafted him and now sits a year away (maybe less?) from deciding if they want to make it a long term relationship.
I've covered Orakpo since he was a rookie and it's hard to fathom how quickly his first four years have gone, and yet how long the road to success (for everyone) sometimes has been. One thing is for sure, Orakpo has always been determined. He is a consummate professional who works hard at his craft, without any drama.
Sometimes that quality is underrated by fans and even media, but it is extremely important to note because the norm is for great athletes to have something about them that rub people the wrong way. I might be missing something, but I can't think of anything that Orakpo has done in that regard.
Sure, he has been knocked for not having a monster breakout season, and that is for the most part understandable. Right now, the most important issue is Orakpo proving to himself & the Redskins management team that he can stay healthy.
On Monday, the new Dad of little Brianna spent time with the media assembled and Orakpo was very adamant that he is healthy and ready to show that the two pectoral tears and an incident in a preseason game in Chicago was just a couple of "freak" occurrences as he called it.
"I shouldn't have no setbacks come OTA's. I can't say how much even better I feel this year from where I was at this point last year....I'm ready to go."
The natural question is why would Orakpo be any different than any other recovering athlete or even his situation from last off-season, which was similar? "It feels differently because I'm not having any aches or pains. I'm not having any sort of discomfort, post surgery. That's the great thing about it."
Clearly that was a problem last year at this time that continued into training camp before initially giving way in Chicago in the preseason, and then in a completely different area in Week 2 at St. Louis.
Either way, Orakpo knows going into the final year of his initial rookie contract that staying healthy (freak injury or not) is important and if he can do that, along with putting up monster numbers - he will heavily increase his chances of being a "Redskin for life" as he termed it, when I asked him about his pending contract situation.
As of this point, if I am being completely honest - I don't know if the Redskins could afford to make a long term commitment to Orakpo if they had to make that decision today. Luckily for Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen, they do not have to make that decision right now or really anytime soon. They might not even have to make that decision next year, as they simply could use the franchise tag.
A franchise tag designation for an outside linebacker in 2012, cost 10.6 million per multiple reports. In 2011, the franchise tag for outside linebackers was a reported 8.8 million. It is possible that the tag price for 2014 could rise to over 11.5 million.
If Orakpo stays healthy for 16 plus games and puts up 10 plus sacks, while continuing to improve in his run defense and pass drops -along with a couple of forced turnovers (interceptions or forced fumbles), that would have to be worth at least 10 million dollars per year in my eyes.
Is that realistic? Of course it is. Players with Orakpo's talent and work ethic usually get better year after year, until their body starts to fail them. I personally don't feel that Orakpo's body is breaking down, but even the most optimistic supporter would have to admit that it is a issue that needs to be monitored.
Let's look at the numbers to see where we are and what is realistic. Orakpo had 11 sacks on an awful team as a rookie, including 4 in one game against a brutal Oakland Raiders team. He had 50 combined tackles and one forced fumble in 2009.
In 2010 (Mike Shanahan's first year) and after transitioning to a 3-4 defense, Orakpo put up 8.5 sacks and 1 forced fumble in 15 games. He had 56 combined tackles.
With Ryan Kerrigan as a first round pick, and helping deter some of the blocking attention, Orakpo racked up 9 sacks, 3 forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. He had a career high 59 combined tackles and 5 passes defensed, which was one more than his combined first two years total. Orakpo was hurt before halftime of the Redskins final game of the season, with the pectoral injury.
In one game plus (and not very much of a 2nd), Orakpo had a full sack and a forced fumble in St. Louis along with 3 passes defensed. It stands to reason that 2012 would have been the 'breakout' year that everybody was hoping for with Kerrigan now comfortable in the systemand with Orakpo in year number three of Jim Haslett's defense.
Orakpo, a two-time Pro Bowler probably would not have reached the levels of J.J. Watt (20.5 sacks) or Aldon Smith (19.5 sacks) or Von Miller (18.5 sacks) but is it fair to say he could have reached what Cameron Wake from Miami did (15 sacks) or Clay Matthews of Green Bay who reached 13 sacks in just 12 games? I think that is more than a fair assumption, and it would have put Orakpo in the top five of the league as Wake was fourth overall with Matthews coming in 5th.
Matthews might be the easiest comparison in terms of production and value for Orakpo. Matthews has 42.5 career sacks in 58 games, with 55 starts. He does have 4 interceptions, with two returned for touchdowns and 7 forced fumbles. Throw in three fumble recoveries, another touchdown and an unofficial total of 203 combined tackles along with 22 passes defensed.
Orakpo in 49 career games, has 30 sacks with no interceptions, six forced fumbles, 12 passes defensed and 171 combined tackles unofficially.
Clearly, Matthews has been more productive and has already helped his team win a championship despite being selected 26th overall by the Packers in the 2009 draft. Orakpo was the number 13 overall pick the same year.
Remember though that Matthews had an enormously better supporting cast and a franchise that was already poised to win. Orakpo didn't get to play with Charles Woodson in his prime, or a very talented Cullen Jenkins and many others that contributed to Green Bay's defensive success. Matthews also was drafted by an organization that very clearly had been set up well by Ted Thompson.
It's hard to fathom anybody not realizing that your individual success is often a by-product of who and what you have around you. Sure, Orakpo had London Fletcher but that was about it for the first two years of his career. Watt, Smith, and Matthews walked into pretty good situations in their respective organizations. Miller was drafted # 2 overall by a defensive minded head coach in John Fox, but on a team that also had Elvis Dumervil and Champ Bailey amongst others.
Orakpo has improved in the other areas of his game, such as his pass drops and run defense, along with his ability to use his hands for a little better leverage. If he can play a full season this year, with Kerrigan fully comfortable in his role and ideally others around him being healthier and better in coverage, it stands to reason that 15 sacks is not out of the question for Orakpo.
As for the money, and what it might cost? Matthews signed a six-year, 69.73 million dollar contract on April 17th according to information posted on Rotoworld.com and Spotrac.com. He received a 20.5 million dollar bonus. Matthews will only count for 6.7 million under the Packers cap in 2013, with figures rising to 11.15 million (2014) to 12.7 million in 2015. From 2016 - 2018, Matthews is currently scheduled to count about 40 million under the Packers cap, with 15.2 million counting in 2017 as currently constructed.
The deal seems to favor the Packers in one area, being that the current franchise tag of 10.6 million (will only go up as more deals are done). Matthews will cost less than he would under a franchise tag in the first two years of the deal and that will probably be the case over the first four years of the deal as well.
The Cowboys have franchised OLB Anthony Spencer the last two years in a row, so Washington might not have to make the decision for even longer, but while that gives you good flexibility from a no long-term risk perspective, it significantly boosts your salary cap number for that one particular season.
Here's what I would say. I would roll the dice for right now and wait on an extension, even though it would lower Orakpo's cap number for 2013 (currently 5.109) and see if he returns to the same or even better level that he was before the injury. I think that is only fair for both sides. If Orakpo goes 8 - 10 games and has roughly a sack per game average, maybe you get serious about a long term extension that makes sense for both sides.
Spencer is going to cost the Cowboys 10.627 million as currently configured (barring a long term extension) and while he had 11 sacks last year, Spencer only has 32.5 career sacks (2.5 more than Orakpo) but has played in 90 games. NINETY. Orakpo has played in 49, if you weren't paying attention above.
Orakpo might not be Matthews, but he's far better than anything Spencer has ever produced and that's with DeMarcus Ware on the other side. If you think about it, Orakpo is an absolute bargain for the Redskins compared to Spencer for the Cowboys. The Redskins know this, and now you do as well.
Even though it would help the Redskins now, Eric Shaffer and Bruce Allen are paid handsomely to make sure that common sense prevails in a league that is every bit as much about dollars and cents, as it is about x's and o's.
If Matthews is the high end ceiling, my guess is Orakpo would come in at the 5-6 year range, with a total value of 50-55 million (5 year deal) or 58-65 million (6 year deal) with maybe 15 million guaranteed. You have until early next March to try and make that happen if you wish to do so, there is absolutely no rush for right now.
For his part, Orakpo didn't seem concerned at all. He's in a good spot, but now it is about trying to get the most imporant thing Matthews already has, a Super Bowl ring.
The Washington Redskins endured plenty of criticism last year. Some of it was deserved, some completely unfair but perception is often much more powerful than reality.
The organization was marching to their first NFC Eastern Division Championship since 1999 and all anybody could really talk about was the health of Robert Griffin III and the health of the FedExField playing surface. Even after they won the division on an electric Sunday night, the playing conditions after three December home games were a hot button topic. In the aftermath of the Seattle playoff loss, the burning topic of how sloppy the field was and what impact did it have on Robert Griffin's re-injury and Chris Clemons' torn ACL was an enormous national story.
We were all left with many questions, most of which have gone unanswered.
Should the Redskins put in field turf? What can be done? What did you think of the playing conditions? Is the surface safe? These were all questions the media and you were asking and inevitably the answers coming from the man that matters most (Mike Shanahan) was that the conditions were much better at field level than what it appeared to be on television or from a distant eye in the crowd at FedEx.
No matter the reason, no matter the impact both past and present, the Redskins organization took it upon themselves to fix a good amount of the problems. On Tuesday, ESPN 980 received a first-hand look at the progress and the plan that is in place.
Many of the changes won't be noticeable to the naked eye, so in a nutshell over a lunch meeting and tour with several Redskins officials - this is what is going to happen and what has already taken place.
**The Redskins discovered that the "root" of the problem was not the surface itself, but what was underneath. What was under the sod is what they feel provided an untenable situation moving forward.
A senior Redskins official told ESPN 980 that a "layer of silt formed" which prevented water from percolating and to not be able to get to the roots. The problem also did not allow for proper drainage. Silt is described as a mixture of debris, grass clippings and other materials.
The Redskins attacked the problem by excavating the entire field at the base, putting in fresh sand, adding a few extra inches to the sand base, rebuilding the "crown" of the surface and adding new drainage mechanisms along the sidelines. The organization last performed a major field renovation four years ago.
Behind the Redskins' and visitors' benches, there are now two strips of cement walkways in spots that used to be just an extension of the grass surface during the nice weather, and slippery and dangerous mud during the inclement weather periods. One of the strips of cement will actually go under the "dream seats" as the Redskins call them and has new drainage vents.
On the strip of cement (which will be rubberized) closest to the field, another underground drainage line or system will allow for sufficient drainage (this sits on the field side of the path) and will prevent the sideline areas that players stand on and team personnel walk and run on, from being an absolute quagmire.
***On June 5th, the Redskins per team officials, will lay down a brand new complete surface that they are currently raising on the eastern shore of Maryland. The Redskins are even using a different type of sod going from the old "Tif Sport" to a new sod they called "Latitude 36" which has been tested on the east coast under similar weather conditions.
**One other significant step that the Redskins are taking for the first time in the history of FedExField is that they are doing a complete re-sod of the middle of the playing surface directly after the November 3rd home game against the San Diego Chargers. The re-sod procedure will include the areas from the "bottom of the numbers" on each side of the field spanning the entire length of the field from end zone to end zone.
**Redskins team officials compared the planned improvements to what you see (or don't see) in December & January in Philadelphia at Lincoln Financial Field. However as @HTTR24_7 and others point out on twitter, the Eagles use a different type of surface called "Desso Grassmaster." Another interesting fact is that, for the first time in several years, no college football games are scheduled to be held at FedExField and while a soccer game will probably be added to the schedule, the facility will be preserved for Redskins home games.
***The Redskins have not renovated the base of the surface in four years, and they have never re-sodded the field as they will do this year, which they feel will give them the best chance to provide a world-class surface for a championship contender. As one official told ESPN 980, "We want to be the best in everything we do. We have to provide the best surface we can. We're always trying to be the best."
**As for field turf - it's not happening. Mike Shanahan doesn't like it, and that's really all that matters. Redskins officials insist that they made this decision on their own, and not because they were forced to do so. One said "this is our decision, there was no mandate. Nobody's called us."
**Another item of interest - for the critics that blasted the Redskins for the putrid field conditions late last season, team officials say that that the NFL personally inspects and approves every field surface before every game, and essentially certifies the playing field. The league did this on the Thursday before the Seattle playoff game, and had the ability to demand sweeping changes, but did not.
**One last nugget of information that I found interesting - a member of the stadium management team who is very involved in the building of the Redskins' new training facility in Richmond, Virginia says the fields are being built in Richmond with the same exact specifications and 'crown' as FedExField has. Why? Mike Shanahan believes that if players are practicing and playing on different surfaces with opposite dimensions, the timing and rhythm of say a quarterback and wide receiver can be affected. He wants it the same exact way.
That, along with the refusal to go with field turf, should give you another few examples of not only who is really in charge, but also how deep the head coach's thought process into winning football goes. The Redskins management team feels that they are taking steps every day and every year, to make the organization the best it can be on the field and off the field.
Day one of NFL Mardi Gras is upon us, as the league celebrated their version of a "Happy New Year" at 4 PM Eastern on Tuesday. I don't know about you, but I could just picture Roger Goodell and John Mara of the Giants with a big, fat stogie in hand, feet kicked up on desk (together or separate) saying "YUP, we screwed them good again."
The Redskins, as expected have done very little as I post this, and are not expected to be prime-time players. That's because as Bruce Allen referred to it as a "travesty of fairness," Washington began serving the 2nd year of an NFL-NFLPA imposed prison sentence, by taking away 18 million dollars in cap space once again.
As ESPN 980 first reported on Monday night, the Redskins were credited with 816, 000 under the 2013 cap because of unearned incentives, and sources told us that the adjusted salary cap was set at 110.09 million, while non penalized teams were just north of 123 million.
The Redskins saved a rough estimate of about 2 million dollars by a re-structure to the contract of Santana Moss. They could have saved 5 million dollars this year by letting him go, but that would have taken away Washington's leading touchdown scorer & a great locker room presence. The key, as Mark Maske of the Washington Post tweeted, is that the Redskins did not have to extend Moss' deal which expires after this upcoming season.
Washington essentially did the same type of re-structure to Adam Carriker's contract on Monday, saving a few million dollars by converting a portion of Carriker's base salary into incentives, which does not count against the 2013 cap. Carriker made it clear to ESPN 980 on Monday when we spoke by phone that he accepted the arrangement because he wanted to help the Redskins this year, in dealing with what he labeled as a unfair cap penalty.
I can speak to Carriker's situation, more than Moss (he has not returned repeated texts/phone calls) - but I believe both are the same. Neither player had base converted to guaranteed bonus in the transactions, so they were absolutely helping the Redskins in many ways.
This should not be surprising, as they are two pretty unselfish players. Not only that, but as Mike Shanahan said on Monday "If you get too creative, it comes back to haunt you. We try to do things the right way, not try to structure things out into the future where it come back to bite you three (or) four years from now. You do that, you don't do things the right way," Shanahan said.
"We are not going to mortgage the future, because of something that has been done to us today," Shanahan said on Monday at Redskins Park.
**One move the Redskins were able to make on Tuesday, was re-signing punter Sav Rocca. ESPN 980 was first to report that the two sides had agreed to a two year contract. Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun reported that the financials were 2.24 million with a 324 K signing bonus.
The 38-year old Rocca wanted to come back, but the two sides had made very little progress until Monday and continued the momentum into today. The move ensures that the Redskins will have all three specialists (Kai Forbath - PK, Nick Sundberg - LS, and Sav Rocca - P) in place to start 2013, under new coordinator, Keith Burns.
***A couple of developments on the free agent front look like this. It appears that Lorenzo Alexander is almost assuredly gone. Where he will wind up is still a question. He was reportedly in talks with the Arizona Cardinals, and had interest from the San Francisco 49'ers and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Alexander was very vague in his reply via text, telling ESPN 980 "haven't decided." One of his agent's tweeted that he has a new team. Another one of his agent's told ESPN 980 twice via text, "no decision yet." This much we know - barring a sudden last minute change of heart on one end or the other - Alexander no longer will be a Redskins captain, very likely by Wednesday.
The only possible scenario that would exist to change that is if the Redskins step up at the last minute with a much improved offer than they are currently offering. In other words, did Lorenzo's agent try one last desperate attempt by tweeting "New teams for clients ...@onemangang97" before he actually decided on a new team or does it simply mean - the decision has already been made to leave the Redskins and he now just has to make the choice between two new teams.
The Steelers interest makes all the sense in the world, because of Danny Smith and the 3-4 defensive scheme that is the father of the Redskins scheme. However, I don't believe they have enough money, as they are reportedly not even able to make a legitimate offer to their own top free agents like Mike Wallace (Miami) & CB Keenan Lewis.
The Arizona Cardinals appear to be the front runner, and rumors all day had the Cardinals hot in pursuit of Alexander and Josh Cribbs, who is also represented by Alexander's agent and who is one of the top return men in NFL history. The Cards might be saying, we have to win every week on specials and defense because our quarterback absolutely stinks.
The 49'ers are well...the 49'ers and that doesn't need much explanation. It is interesting to note that San Francisco visits Fed Ex Field this upcoming season, so Alexander would have a return trip to Washington.
**One final note for today, veteran DE Kedric Golston re-signed with the Redskins. The deal, confirmed by ESPN 980 is for three years, and we have learned that it is worth a maximum of 5.2 million if all incentives and scenarios are met. In all likely hood, it will end up being worth in the 3.5 - 4 million dollar range. Golston gets a signing bonus north of 300,000. It's a great deal for Golston, who is also extremely close to Alexander and maybe that changes something at the last minute.
Chris Russell // SFTheRooster@Yahoo.com // www.twitter.com/russellmania980
Mike Shanahan raised more than a few eyebrows last week at his season ending Monday press conference, for more than just his comments on Robert Griffin III
After the Redskins were dealt what most thought (and probably is) a crippling blow on the eve of free-agency last year, a 36 million dollar league imposed salary cap space penalty(spread over two years), most thought that Washington was doomed for the next several years.
I can’t say that thought, combined with no first round picks in 2013 and 2014 – didn’t cross my mind. However it wasn’t a serious thought in my convoluted brain, because I strongly believe the wrong way to build is through spending boatloads of money.I was and still am much more concerned about missing a few great potential pieces in the first round, especially considering Robert Griffin III’s current injury status.
The Redskins were punished 18.4 million dollars under the 2012 salary cap, and 17.6 million under the 2013 cap, per ESPN 980 sources. So what's the status of that punishment moving forward?
Mike Shanahan repeatedly said last off-season that he would talk about the situation and the Redskins appeal efforts when he was allowed too. Somehow, the question and a follow-up was allowed to expire during the season by the daily Redskins media corps, which I am obviously a member of and nobody from the outside, really made a big deal of it.
There was one exception, ESPN’s Adam Schefter mentionedin early November on ESPN 980 and the “Sports Fix” that the Redskins believed they had a shot at winning the 2013 war and getting some of the cap penalty room back.
During a few conversations I had with executives inside Redskins Park in November and early December, I was told the same thing. I was told by one person, that they felt like they had a really good chance.
It’s one thing to feel that, but what reason do you have for that optimism? That’s the answer that nobody knows. These conversations were informal and obviously not on the record, but I trust those that verified Schefter’s thoughts, and we know where that information is very likely coming from.
Armed with that information, the question had to be asked after all of the Griffin-gate issues were dealt with. In our last availability with Mike Shanahan until April – the head man needed to address this pertinent issue which would directly affect Washington’s free agent plans. Were the Redskins still contesting the penalties, handed down by the NFL and it’s executive council?
“Well, I can’t answer that at this time so that means we’re still involved in it. Yes, we’re still involved in it. When I can speak about it, I will speak. But at this time, I can’t. I think that answers your question," Shanahan told me.
So there you go. Now the question is – how will the NFL deal with this continued protest? Do the Redskins really have a shot, or are they just desperate and fighting just to fight. What’s the strategy the Redskins are using?
One person that is familiar with the matter, doesn’t feel as confident as others I’ve talked with. The person candidly said “They fought the good fight. It’s over.”
This person has not changed their stance since the initial arbitration case was rejected by Stephen Burbank in Philadelphia last May.
He says the only thing the Redskins can really do, is file a lawsuit against the National Football League, a strategy the person said was highly unlikely, “I can’t imagine they would do that.”
The way the Redskins and possibly the Cowboys would go about that, is to file a lawsuit in state or federal court, because the arbitration angle is dead.
The problems associated with a lawsuit of that magnitude is that according to the league’s constitution, the loser of the battle would pay all fees and could be counter-sued for “conduct detrimental to the league.”
The source described a decision to do this as a “thermo-nuclear” choice and strongly suggested that the Redskins avoid that route.
The same person also said that the only way he could think of to make this reversal take place, short of filing a lawsuit – would be to get an amendment to the league’s collective bargaining agreement. How likely is that and getting such a move past key executives like John Mara of the New York Giants? Extremely unlikely in another ESPN 980 sources thought process.
The main source did allow something that I thought was particularly interesting, by saying the NFL “amended the CBA to (bleep) these teams” before, which is why the league’s management committee was able to negotiate a cut throat deal with the NFLPA, in the person’s eyes.
What makes the issue even harder to fathom, is that the NFLPA collusion suit http://bit.ly/U0oyJk was dismissed recently, so the person who has knowledge of the situation, said the only strategy that he could see working is one of “persuasion.”
You might be thinking, Huh? The person said he was aware of the in-house thought by many people close to Commissioner Roger Goodell. He said that many league lieutenants knew how bad the screw-job was, and just how much the NFL had “(bleeped) over” both organizations, but specifically the Redskins.
One possible argument that the Redskins are still fighting was outlined by my friend J.I. Halsell, who is a former salary cap analyst with the Washington Redskins, and now is a player-agent and salary cap analyst with Priority Sports, based out of Chicago.In the interest of full-disclosure, Halsell also served as ESPN 980’s front-office insider for the last few years.
Halsell, long before this was even an issue, was truly a prophet. He wrote this column http://insidethecap.blogspot.com/2010_03_01_archive.html in which he detailed the Redskins creative re-structuring ofthe Albert Haynesworth and DeAngelo Hall contracts that they were subsequently penalized for.
We all know why the Redskins were penalized, but the most important element of Halsell’s article was that Bruce Allen essentially executed the same exact maneuver in Tampa with offensive lineman, Jeff Faine.
Halsell at the writing of the article, mentioned the dubbed “I-4 Off-Ramp,” as the ‘same device’ as used in the Haynesworth and Hall contracts. Just for clarification, to make sure nothing had changed in Halsell’s understanding of the situation, he confirmed to ESPN 980 on Tuesday that the restructured deals in both Washington and Tampa were “exactly the same.”
The greater point is this. We know that the NFL and the contract division of the league office approved the restructured contracts of both Haynesworth and Hall, as they did with Faine while Allen in charge in Tampa Bay.If they approved all three restructured deals, along with the Cowboys contracts – how is it that ONLY the Redskins and Cowboys were penalized?
Tampa performed such a move while under a salary cap, which has to be the answer from the league – however it was beyond clear that the Bucs were trying to take advantage of the extra room they had under their cap, while also clearing out a ton of space moving forward, in 2009 and in the uncapped year of 2010.
The strategy worked to a large degree, as they had a pirate ship full of money to spend in 2011 and 2012, after performing extremely well with a young, cheap and pared down roster in 2010.
Of course, it would be nice if the league took the time to explain all of this maneuvering, but maybe they don’t – because they always seem to have something to hide.
The person with knowledge said this in parting “It’s really disgusting what the league did to (the Redskins).”
While it may be disgusting, it seems awfully hard to fathom how the Redskins will get some much needed relief.
Chris Russell - SFTheRooster@Yahoo.com - www.twitter.com/russellmania980
It's Round 1 of what the Redskins hope will be a four round tango to New Orleans and the top of the football world. The playoffs are here.
The Seattle Seahawks (11-5) and the # 5 seed as the top NFC Wild Card team visit FedEx Field and the (10-6) NFC Eastern Division Champion Washington Redskins Sunday at 4:30 ET, with pregame coverage throughout the day on ESPN 980 AM, 94.3/92.7 FM, www.espn980.com and Audio Now at (832) 999-1980.
For this do-or-die clash, we go "Inside the Numbers" to hopefully answer some of the burning questions that should play out on center stage (a sloppy one) this Sunday.
We wrote extensively about the Seahawks in our new feature "Eye on the Enemy" on Thursday http://redskins.espn980.com/bloggers/chris-russell/item/802-eye-on-the-enemy-seattle-seahawks so that's a great reference guide for some of the nuts and bolts numbers that the Seahawks present.
An area that I would like to focus on is the Redskins run offense vs. the Seahawks Run defense. The Redskins are # 1 in the NFL in rushing offense at 169.3 yards per game, which helps fuel a top ranking in yards per play at 6.17, and a top NFL ranking in yards per first-down play at 6.54. Washington is also 2nd in yards per rush attempt at 5.2, and first in the NFC/2nd in the NFL in first down rushing efficiency at 27.7 %.
The Redskins issue a team stats package that says Washington has a total of 6,375 total yards (3,666 gross pass, 2,709 net rush) but 3,066 of those yards (2nd in NFL) occurred on 1st Down plays, or a pretty astonishing 48%. Naturally the run game is a big part of that success, and the Redskins MUST stay out of 3rd and long situations against the Seahawks defense.
The Redskins are still not very good on third down overall (35.8%) but in the last three weeks, they stand at 47.2 % or (17-36). Overall on the 2012 season, from 3rd & 7 + situations they are (20-102),19.6% and (7-58), 12.1% on 3rd & 10 + situations.
The Seahawks defense in the last three weeks is allowing opponents to convert on (10-35) 28.5% third down chances (Buffalo, San Francisco, St. Louis). Two of those offenses are fairly pedestrian, while San Francisco has essentially a rookie quarterback in Colin Kaepernick & they were playing for the 2nd consecutive week on the road, and on a Sunday night.
Why do I bring up 3rd Down stats? Simple. What you do or don't do on first down, is often telling of what kind of situation you are in on 3rd down or maybe it allows you to avoid that situation all together.
Back to the rushing element, which is a huge part of the mix on first down. Alfred Morris is 7th in the NFL in terms of most yards from scrimmage, at 1,690 with 1,613 coming on the ground. Morris ranks 4th in the NFL, accumulating first downs with 86. Seattle's defense, while ranking 2nd in total yards per game in the NFC and 4th overall in the NFL, doesn't fare as well in the run stopping department. Seattle ranks 10th in rushing yards per game allowed at 103.1, but 23rd overall in the league in rushing yards allowed per attempt at 4.48 yards per carry. Morris averages 4.8 per carry, so it's logical to think that if Morris gets 25 carries (averaging 21 carries per game) he'll be right around 120 yards if he maintains his average yards per carry rate. If he only rushes 21 times (season per game rate) then that production would slip to right around 100 yards. Factoring in the Seahawks averages (4.48/carry vs. 4.8/carry) and splitting the difference - Morris might realistically churn out about about a 115 or so yards (4.64 x 25).
If you factor in Robert Griffin being healthier, maybe he takes his 6.8 per carry average and runs 7 times (season average 7.5/game). If Griffin III can be in that ballpark, he could add another 45 yards plus to the mix. The Redskins if they run the ball 30 + times for 160 + yards should put themselves in position to control the ball for about 32 minutes or so in time of possession.
The Redskins ran the ball over 30 times in a game in 12 out of 16 games, with a season high 43 attempts in the opener at New Orleans, and 42 attempts in the finale against Dallas as the high marks. They are (1-3) when rushing the ball less than 30 times per game in 2012. Washington is (6-3) when winning the time of possession battle. The Redskins are (7-4) when they have over 150 + rushing yards, yet still a pretty good (3-2) when under 149 yards rushing.
When Morris rushes over 25 times, the Redskins are (3-0). When he's over his average (20.9/game), the Redskins are a pretty damn good (8-1). Morris averages 100.8 yards per game (1,613/16) and has crossed the 100-yard rushing mark seven times in his rookie season. In those games, the Redskins are (5-2).
The Seahawks gave up 175 yards on the ground in San Francisco, 243 against Minnesota (at home), 189 at Miami, 132 in a win at Chicago the next week and 118 two weeks later against the Bills in Toronto. Those five games illustrate a pretty favorable picture for the Redskins, as the Seahawks were gashed for 857 rushing yards on 140 attempts or an average of 6.12 per attempt.
Bottom line, Morris needs to run well and the Redskins have to stay committed to win. In other words....DUH!
As for the Redskins stopping Marshawn Lynch and the Seahawks run - here is a little idea of what they are looking at from the outstanding work of Matt Bowen of the National Football Post, http://www.nationalfootballpost.com/Dont-forget-about-Lynch.html and more specifically on Seattle's version of the zone-read http://www.nationalfootballpost.com/Film-Study-Seahawks-Read-Option-vs-Bears.html.
Could Washington end Washington? Here's what we know. Seahawks kick returner Leon Washington is 2nd in the NFL (1st in NFC) with a 29.0 yard kickoff return average, and has a 98 yard kickoff return for a touchdown this year in Miami. He also is tied for first all-time with EIGHT kickoff returns for a touchdown, with Cleveland's Josh Cribbs. Washington also is Seattle's punt returner and averages 8.7.
The Redskins allow 23.0 yards per kick return, which ranks them as 12th best in the NFL. As for punt return coverage, Washington is 8th best in the league at 8.2, but remember the issues Washington had last week on the opening return where Dwayne Harris returned the ball 28 yards to set up the Cowboys at the Washington 27 and later in the game, Harris had a 39 yard return that was only stopped by a Sav Rocca face mask - with the Cowboys drive ultimately starting at the Washington 16. They cashed in three plays later on a Kevin Ogletree touchdown on 3rd/4.
Baltimore and Jacoby Jones were # 1 in the NFL in kick return average this year, and when the Ravens lost to the Redskins at FedEx in December, Jones had 5 returns for 145 yards (29.0 AVG, same as Leon Washington), with a long of 38. We saw directional kickoffs for the first time in the season, and as a result -- Kai Forbath had a kickoff out-of-bounds and nearly booted the opening kickoff of overtime to the sidelines as well. That gives the opponent possession at the 40-yard line. On the very first kick of the game, Forbath landed a perfect kick that dropped at the 1-yard line, and was returned to only the Baltimore-19.
Against Cleveland the next week, the Redskins went head to head with the above mentioned Cribbs and surrendered 7 returns for 191 yards, or a 27.3 average, with a long of 32. Cleveland was 8th in the NFL in kickoff return average, but 3rd in the the league with punt return average. Because of the Redskins high-octane attack that day (after the first four series) they only punted twice for a total return yardage of 15 yards.
The bottom line is this - the Redskins need to keep the kickoff returns against Washington to about a 25.0 average and the punt returns to about 8.0 to not lose the battle in this hugely key area. A source told ESPN 980 to expect the Redskins to play a directional kicking game plan. The Redskins have made stopping Leon Washington almost as big of a priority in this game, as any other element.
If the right Washington flips the script.... the Redskins could win. The Redskins struggled woefully in the return game with Brandon Banks as the dual returner. Since splitting the roles against Baltimore, Niles Paul and Richard Crawford have been close to fantastic. Banks averaged 6.8 per punt return (26-178) with 5 fair catches. Crawford with only 8 returns or 18 fewer opportunities, already has 156 yards (8-156, 19.5). Even if you take away the dramatic 64-yard punt return, Crawford has very good numbers (7-92, 13.14)
Brandon Banks averaged 24.0 per kick return (22-527) with a long of 55. Since his benching, Niles Paul has taken over and while only averaging 21.8 per return, has made an impact in noticeable ways. His 48-yard return last Sunday night flipped field position big time to mid-field. Washington wasted the opportunity, but because of the field position -- Dallas had to fair catch a punt (instead of another big return) at the Cowboys-15, which led to a bad interception by Tony Romo.
Paul had a 44-yard return in Philadelphia that was negated by a highly questionable penalty on Chris Wilson, that many Redskins special teams players and the coaching staff strongly disagree with. Evan Royster has also contributed two returns for a total of 39 yards. All in all, I believe the Redskins are much better with the north and south returning option, and the much harder to tackle Paul over Banks.
Kai Forbath missed his first field goal attempt last week off the right upright, so he's now (17-18) but still (12-12) from 40 + yards. He only has 15 touchbacks out of 60 opportunities, or 25%.
Sav Rocca forced two fair catches last week, and saved a touchdown (despite the other punt coverage issues) but has been inconsistent while dealing the knee issues, with a gross average of 43.9 and a net average of 37.2. Per NFL issued stats, the Redskins rank 27th in both gross and net punting average.
Random numbers and strategies that might mean something:
The Redskins could have three guys with 5 interceptions each by the time Sunday night comes. Rob Jackson and DeAngelo Hall have four each and they could join London Fletcher in the five-plus club. With at least a half-sack each, Rob Jackson can get to 5.0 sacks on the year, Perry Riley can get to 4.0 sacks, Barry Cofield can get to 3.0 sacks, Ryan Kerrigan can get to 9.0 sacks, Lorenzo Alexander can get to 3.0, and Chris Wilson can get to 1.0.
For Alexander, Jackson, Riley and Kerrigan, they are already at career highs for sacks. For Cofield, a half-sack would match his output last year with Washington and if he has 1.5, he would match his career high.
Robert Griffin III (forgot about him?) uses play-action a whole bunch, to the tune of 39.6% according to Pro Football Focus (@PFF) via (@Draft_Hub). Seahawks QB Russell Wilson uses play-action 36.2 % of the time.
Aldrick Robinson has not made a catch since his long bomb touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving. He had one against the Eagles 5 days before. Kyle Shanahan insists when Robinson is out there, defenses change coverages and drop safeties deep (because they know what is coming) but that opens up a lot of intermediate routes.
In last year's win in Seattle - Anthony Armstrong on a 3rd-and-19 caught a 50-yard bomb for a touchdown over Brandon Browner's back. Armstrong and Robinson have similar builds. It has me wondering against tall, physical corners that Seattle possesses if we might see the return of Robinson to the boxscore.
I think the Redskins think they can attack deep off play action (zone read) or traditional stretches and boots (QB keepers) to the perimeter, along with some reverses sprinkled in to get the Seahawks flowing from side to side (like they did in Cleveland) and then attack up top.
Including the Dallas Thanksgiving Day win for the Redskins, where Robinson was last heard from - he's only been on the field for 30 offensive snaps combined over those last six games.
Pierre up for the Playoffs? Pierre Garcon told me on Friday that he doesn't treat the playoffs any differently than the regular season. His career stats would indicate that at the very least, he isn't hard to find in January. Garcon has 26 catches for 363 yards and 3 touchdowns in his four career post season contests. The touchdowns have come in his last three games in a row, and he's gone well over 100 yards twice.
Santana Moss has post season touchdowns in his last two make-or-break games, both for Washington, against well -- Seattle. He has four career playoff touchdowns, and twice has gone over the 100 yard mark, including in 2006 in Seattle.
Cedric Griffin (activated Friday) has one career playoff interception. DeAngelo Hall hasn't played in a postseason game since 2005, when he was with Atlanta. A win by the Redskins would get Hall back to the Georgia Dome for the first time since 1999.
One last note....Both starting RT Tyler Polumbus and starting RCB Josh Wilson will be playing against their former team, and both were active in playoff games for the Seahawks.
Chris Russell // SFTheRooster@Yahoo.com // www.twitter.com/russellmania980
The Washington Redskins (8-6) are surging towards January and perhaps (REALLY?) a run at New Orleans.
The Philadelphia Eagles (4-10) are making a run for the border, as in "South of the Border," the vacation area at the North Carolina/South Carolina border ...or perhaps for a Taco Bell near you. Either way, it doesn't matter - they're done like Christmas dinner.
It's game number 15 for the Redskins as they try and make a once unlikely push to the playoffs & secure their first winning season since 2007, and a playoff spot if they win and the Giants (@ BALTIMORE), Vikings (@ HOUSTON) and Bears (@ ARIZONA) all lose. With the Giants and Bears games beginning at 4:25, the Redskins even with a win won't know until about 7:30 for sure if they are in the playoffs, but winning is the most important thing.
We begin at 9 AM with Redskins Gameplan featuring Larry Michael, John Keim (@John_Keim) & me (@Russellmania980), on ESPN 980 AM, 94.3/92.7 FM & right here on ESPN980.com.
The official Redskins KIA Motors pregame show begins at 10 with Kevin Sheehan (@KevinS980) live in DC, while Rich Campbell (@Rich_Campbell), Rick "Doc" Walker (@RickDocWalker), Sonny Jurgensen and me are live at Lincoln Financial Field. That show airs on ESPN 980 AM, 94.3/92.7 FM and in part on the Washington Redskins Radio Network.
After the game, it's my guy Al Galdi (@AlGaldi) with help from Scott Jackson (@JacksonSports) live until about 7:30 PM on ESPN 980 & the Washington Redskins Radio Network.
With that being said, let's go "Inside the Numbers" a long and winding look at some of the key statistics, trends and facts you need to know, as you watch the game & hopefully listen to our all-day coverage live from Philadelphia.
WHY HAVE THE REDSKINS WON FIVE IN A ROW? Washington has forced ten turnovers during the win streak (2.0/game AVG) & 11 (2.2/game) sacks over the streak. They've allowed 351 yards average-per-game (1,755/5). Over the course of the 14-game season, they've allowed an average of 381 yards-per-game, to rank a non-inspiring 29th in the league. It's only 30 yards per game difference, but that could be the ultimate difference sometimes.
Turnovers are the key however, along with increased pressure. In their three-game losing streak before the bye, the Redskins forced two turnovers (@ NYG) and none against Pittsburgh or Carolina and had only two sacks (@ NYG, @ PITT). The bottom-line as we have said all along, they can not win and stop opponents without doing both, not just one.
THE CAPTAIN IS CALLING: London Fletcher has four interceptions this year, he will be shooting for his 5th of year and to try and pick one off in his third straight game. In 2000, Fletcher had three interceptions in 2 back-to-back games and all four picks in the span of four games. He's never had an interception in three straight during his career, and a fifth this year would be a career high.
If Fletcher gets a interception in the next two games, he'll be in sole possession of 2nd on the active linebacker list for most interceptions. He's tied with Brian Urlacher right now.
If the Redskins as a team, have more than one interception, it would be the 7th game this year. That would be the most since 1999 (7 games). Eagles QB Nick Foles has thrown 4 interceptions in 6 games (2 vs. Redskins 11/18), 5 of those starts.
If the Redskins return an interception for a touchdown for a 4th time this year - it would be the first time since 1984, a burgundy and gold defense did that.
Continuing the turnover trend, the Eagles have only forced 12 turnovers this year (7 INT, 5 FUM) & have turned ball over 34 times (13 INT, 21 lost fumbles). That's a very undesirable minus 22 turnover differential, which puts them tied for 31st in the NFL. The Redskins are + 13, which ties them for 4th in the league.
A PASS RUSH THAT'S ONLY GETTING BETTER We know how pitiful it was earlier this year, because of the Orakpo/Carriker injury effect. To illustrate that point, in 2011 -- Ryan Kerrigan had 7.5 sacks & led the Redskins with 42 QBP (Quarterback Pressures) according to coaches film. This year, Kerrigan has 6.5 sacks and only 20 QBP.
Last year, NT Barry Cofield in his first year at nose-tackle & in the 3-4, had only 18 QBP's with more help from Orakpo/Kerrigan. In year 2 with two games to go, he already has 32 QBP's, which leads the entire defense. Fellow DL Stephen Bowen is 2nd on the club with 30. Both Bowen and Cofield are 28, and clearly part of the foundation for the Redskins defensive line.
As a point of comparison, in 2010 -- Jim Haslett and Mike Shanahan's first year -- Brian Orakpo led the Redskins with 47 QBP's. Vonnie Holliday was 2nd with 28, and everybody's hero, Albert Haynesworth was tied for third with 20. Now, Cofield, Bowen, and Kerrigan are 1-2-3. Holliday and Haynesworth were both traded at the start of training camp in 2011.
Also in 2010, Washington racked up 29 sacks on the year (pathetic) with Orakpo (no Kerrigan, Cofield, Bowen). This year, they have 25 (without Orakpo and Carriker for all but 1 + game, and their starting safeties missed pretty much the entire year).
TACKLE, TACKLE, TACKLE: According to Redskins coaches film statistics - London Fletcher has 159 total tackles, Perry Riley has 141, & DeAngelo Hall has 102 total. Lorenzo Alexander has 28 special teams (leads team) & 24 defensive tackles, 1.5 sacks and 9 QBP's.
I THINK SPECIAL TEAMS WILL BE SPECIAL: The Eagles are allowing 13.4 yards per punt return and 25.1 per kickoff return this year. By contrast, the Redskins allow only 6.6 per punt return, & 23.8 per kickoff return. The Eagles allowed the Cowboys to return a punt 78 yards for a touchdown on November 11. Richard Crawford, who took over for Brandon Banks in the punt return role against Baltimore, is averaging a lofty 23.6 per return which was elevated by the money 64-yard return in overtime against Baltimore. Even if you take away that return, Crawford has returned four kicks for 54 yards, or an average of 13.5 per return. Remember, the Eagles allow 13.4 per punt return.
Of course, the Redskins will depend on PK Kai Forbath, who is a perfect (15-15 FG's) on the year, including (10-10) from 40 +. They'll need him to be better on kickoffs, as that continues to be an issue in a variety of ways. He only has one touchback in the last three games, and Washington allowed an average of 27.3 per return (7) in Cleveland and 29.0 per return against Baltimore (5), along with a kick that went out-of-bounds.
The former Eagles punter, Sav Rocca has been mostly strong of late as his knee gets better. He's averaged a net of 39.6, 39.0, 38.3, 41.8, 39.8 in the five game winning streak. In that span, he's had 8 kicks inside the 20.
WE HAVEN'T EVEN MENTIONED ROBERT GRIFFIN III ...UNTIL NOW: Per ESPN Next Level statistics, Griffin is 1st in the NFL in completion % (57.4) & Yards per attempt (16.7), and 2nd in Total QBR (99.2), when passing the ball 15 + yards down field.
Griffin III in his rookie season has saved a lot of his best for divisional games (3-1). In the Giants games, there were some uneven moments with ball control - but against Philadelphia and Dallas which were back-to-back games last month (as they are now) - he's been terrific. His QB rating against all division opponents is 135.3, which currently put his ahead of guys like Aaron Rodgers (2011), Tom Brady (2007) and Steve Young (1994) for highest passer rating against divisional opponents in a season in NFL history (based on a minimum 75 attempts). Griffin III has thrown for 11 touchdown passes and two interceptions plus one lost fumble (plus a fumble to Josh Morgan for a TD) inside the NFC East this year. In addition, he's run the ball 33 times for 274 yards (8.3/carry) in NFCE games. Two of his top three games in terms of rushing totals have come inside the division. Against the rest of the NFL (non division), he has 79 rushes for 474 yards (6.0 per attempt). The one thing he has yet to do in divisional games? Score a rushing touchdown.
If the Redskins get 400 + net yards of offense on Sunday, they would improve to (6-1) this year when doing that. Just as a point of comparison, with 399 or less - They're (3-5).
KEEP IT ROLLING: The Redskins with a win would have longest regular season winning streak (six) since a 7-game win streak, Weeks 2-9 in 1996, according to Redskins PR. The Redskins with a win in Philly would be (5-3) on road in 2012. The last time they had more wins on road? 1991, when they won seven road games.
THINGS THAT MAY MEAN NOTHING: The Redskins have out-scored their opponents in every period (cumulative) except for the 4th quarter. 79-73 in quarter 1, 118-104 in quarter 2, 74-43 in quarter 3. In the fourth quarter, they are down 130-107. Just some coincidental number matching. For the year, they have scored 381 points and allowed 350 points. They've allowed an average of 381 yards per game, and during the win streak (as noted above) they've allowed an average of 351 yards per game. If only that meant anything to anybody.
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO WEAR? The Redskins should probably wear burgundy jerseys in Philadelphia. They're (6-3) this year, as opposed to (2-3) in white jerseys. They are (6-6) in gold pants. They are (2-0) in white pants. I have to think that Bruce Allen and Brad Berlin (head equipment manager) are WELL AWARE of this. If I'm a betting man, and I am not, the numbers tell me the Redskins will be in white pants and burgundy jerseys.
The Washington Redskins have now done (at least for them) the almost unthinkable. They've actually won two football games in a row (had not happened since Week 1 & 2, 2011) and have done it in impressive motion. This has a much different feel than last year's back-to-back wins over the Giants & Arizona Cardinals - for many reasons.
Just six days ago, Redskins players woke up staring a must-win in the face and the task of avoiding another embarrassing loss at home, and to a rookie quarterback for a 9th consecutive time. The Redskins came out of the bye week with their hair on fire, and blasted Philadelphia into cheese steak hell, 31-6.
Fast forward to Thanksgiving Day in Dallas. A 28-point 2nd quarter ultimately proved to be the difference, along with some brilliant play by Robert Griffin III, clutch kicking by Kai Forbath and a dominating defensive effort in the 1st half. Even in the 2nd half, that Redskins fans are fretting about - Jim Haslett's troops came up with several monster plays to stuff a few turkeys named Romo, Garrett and Jones.
Before I fully watch the TV version & some of the coaching tape that gets posted (whenever they feel like it) on NFL.com -- here are some "Quick Snaps" thoughts and reaction to the Redskins 38-31 win that resembled what your kitchen looks like after Thanksgiving Day. What I mean by that, is a lot of delicious goodies that give you that happy, elated feeling but a lot to clean up afterwards.
***Let's start with Aldrick Robinson's 68 yard bomb touchdown, which was thrown perfectly in stride by Robert Griffin so that the dynamic Robinson could run full speed and catch it over his shoulder and in perfect stride, without the speedster having to slow down for even a half-second. Wow, what a throw and a nice route with similar components as his 49-yard score last Sunday against the Eagles. To me, this was more impressive for many reasons.
Robinson split the corner and safety on a scissor post route from the right side of the formation. The safety (Danny McCray) was caught flat-footed or was frozen for one second, because of one very important component. The Redskins ran this play out of a bunch run look. Washington had a twin H-Back type set, with Darrel Young and Logan Paulsen set behind the offensive line and split slightly in front and on both sides of Robert Griffin III.
The play before, had almost exactly the same formation with Paulsen running a left to right, stop-and-go motion and setting to Griffin's left, with Young to Griffin's right - while Alfred Morris was set behind the QB. Aldrick Robinson (on the play before TD) was lined up to the left of Griffin in a tighter alignment. Robinson tried to get a good start off the snap, and drew a false start.
On the TD, Paulsen ran motion from right to left halfway, before settling off-set right of Griffin. Young was to Griffin's left, with Morris once again lined up as part of the full house backfield look behind Griffin III. Washington ran a zone-read play action, as Robinson (on Griffin's right) got a free release and with the safety frozen - BINGO - for the touchdown and the Redskins SIXTH touchdown play of 60+ yards on the season.
One other interesting element of the play. Because it was the same exact play and formation (just flipped) when Aldrick Robinson broke the huddle - he tried to go back to the left side of the formation, before realizing that he was supposed to be on the right. In a flash, it was 7-3 Redskins and they were off to the races. You can get a better feel for how the Redskins drew this up schematically here, courtesy of Mark Bullock (@UKRedskin1) and by checking out his great timeline - pic.twitter.com/i0d1Lys7 .
**The touchdown eliminated Brandon Banks horrifying decision to catch a punt while back pedaling towards his own goal line. Officially, Banks was 'credited' with fielding the ball at the Washington 0-yard line and was knocked out of bounds at the Washington-7. Clearly, a mind numbing mistake that cost the Redskins 13-yards of field position. Mike Shanahan addressed the issue on Friday with reporters during a tele-conference, saying "we're going to take a hard look at it and make sure he makes the best decisions."
Sounds to me like they would consider putting someone else back in that role, but the question becomes who? Richard Crawford has been inactive the last few games. Santana Moss is too valuable as a receiving threat, with 7 touchdowns already and closing in on his best single season mark here in Washington. DeAngelo Hall has played on kick-off coverage this year, and of-course had the on-sides kick recovery to end the 38-31 win.
Shanahan also pointed out, when I asked him to grade Banks' performance - the key 3rd & 4 conversion he had on a quick pass for a first down. Banks slipped out of his break and still charged ahead for the first down. It was an 8-yard gain that came two plays before Pierre Garcon's 59-yard scoring catch and run.
I also thought it was interesting that on the Aldrick Robinson touchdown drive, which started with Banks' bad decision - he was immediately put back into the game and the offensive sets. On first down, Banks was in the backfield after a shift, on a Alfred Morris 4-yard run. The next play was a 9-yard gain out of the pistol by Robert Griffin III for a first down off the right side because of the threat Banks commands. After a Pierre Garcon catch and a Alfred Morris run of ten yards (the 54th run of 10 + per ESPN 980's Chuck Sapienza to lead the NFL), the Redskins dialed up the formation and scoring play that we wrote about earlier.
***Alfred Morris scored his 6th rushing touchdown of the year, and racked up 113 yards on 24 carries, to move to within 18 yards of the 1,000 mark. He would become the first Redskins RB to achieve that mark since Clinton Portis in 2008. Morris told me on "Monday Night Live" at Velocity 5 Lansdowne - that's the back he wants to be and why he first became a Redskins fan.
Morris racked up his fourth 100-yard rushing performance of the year, and per Redskins public relations - the last ten players (Royster, Helu, Morris, Griffin III) to rush for 100 yards in a game have all been rookies. He also has nine games in 2012 in which he has run for 75 or more yards, which puts him on the same line for that achievement as the great Adrian Peterson and also Marshawn Lynch.
Morris' touchdown was his first since the Minnesota win, and came out of the I-formation with a zone block to the right and a left side kick out block by Darrel Young who had several destructive blocks in the win. The most important play on the drive was a 3rd-and-2 seed to Santana Moss. It may have been Robert's most impressive throw of the day, which is pretty hard when you consider his back shoulder TD to Moss before the half and the Robinson bomb.
***So happy to see Niles Paul get rewarded for his continued improvement as a tight end. His 3rd/1 acrobatic touchdown catch that expanded the Redskins lead was a 29-yard catch and roll into the end zone. The play was so well designed that Paul could have had turkey dinner and leftovers before a Cowboys defender got near him. The play was actually on 3rd & inches, and the Redskins as you would expect gave a heavy run look with two tight ends (including Paul) and an I-stack in the formation
Robert Griffin III gave really a "show-me" fake, meaning it wasn't even a good one, but just more to create illusion and the Cowboys had two defenders including Ernie Sims cover Alfred Morris in the right flat for some unknown reason. Aldrick Robison (out of 1 WR set) and Logan Paulsen ran medium depth routes and Paul was free. He made a tough catch on a far from perfect throw as Robert was about to get popped. We mentioned Darrel Young..he had a huge cut block of DeMarcus Ware that gave Griffin a clear throwing lane.
Can you believe many fans wanted to cut Niles Paul? It's another case of Redskins fans being so passionate and angry, that they can't think with any common sense. I have received so many tweets and have seen/heard so many people talk about Niles. It truly was more ridiculous than even the Jim Haslett situation. Even after the touchdown, I faced that silly wrath. It's just so preposterous, I can't even begin to fathom the idea.
Remember, Niles Paul was far from a polished wide receiver in a option based, quarterback running scheme at Nebraska when he was drafted by the Redskins in 2011. He had no off-season in his first NFL year, then was asked to transform himself from a wide receiver to a tight end. DUH, it's going to take some time. Paul has made a big 37-yard catch in Pittsburgh and had a 22-yard catch against Carolina. It's not a huge statistical improvement but the best is yet to come.
It's the Washington Redskins (3-6) and the equally miserable (3-6) Philadelphia Eagles Sunday at 1 PM, on the day of WWE's annual "Survivor Series" pay-per-view.
That's the nice way of putting this game (Survivor Series). It also could be viewed and billed as PURE, UNADULTERATED "Hell in a Cell" or as I said on the radio the other day, a loser-leave-town steel cage match. The WWE used to do some skit with the Undertaker called a "Buried Alive" match. You can make a fair argument that both of these teams deserve that kind of treatment.
Either way, no-matter what you want to call it -- the winner keeps their faint playoff hopes alive at (4-6) and breaks a multiple game losing streak (Redskins - 3, Eagles - 5) and the loser basically gets to pound sand and give their bitter fan bases more opportunity to fire people that work 100 hours a week.
With that glorious back drop set, we begin our pre-game coverage at 9 AM from FedEx Field with Larry Michael's Redskins Game Plan, featuring John Keim & myself. At 10, the official KIA Motors Pre Game show begins with Kevin Sheehan on ESPN 980 & the Washington Redskins Radio Network. Doc Walker, Sonny Jurgensen, Rich Campbell and I will join Kevin live from the stadium. The exclusive play-by-play begins just before 1 PM, Brian Mitchell joins me for half time, and then Al Galdi has the MBUSA Redskins Post Game show featuring exclusive interviews with Robert Griffin III, Mike Shanahan and more players.
Now - we go "Inside the Numbers" Week 11 style as the Redskins play their first of two division games in the next five days.
***RUN, RUN, RUN - The Redskins must run the ball effectively in order to win. With a healthy dose of Robert Griffin III, the Skins ran for 151 yards on 32 carries in the loss against Carolina, but of course the penalties negated a lot of the positives for Washington. Against Pittsburgh, the Redskins only ran for 86 yards on 21 carries. As a result - between the run game being a little less effective, Robert Griffin III being more erratic, the penalties, drops and turnovers -- Washington has only totaled 25 points in the last two games combined.
***The Eagles run defense is middle of the road (112.7 YPG allowed, 15th) and while they haven't allowed a 100-yard individual rushing game (Ray Rice-99 yards -Week 2) they've allowed between 101 (Dallas) and 146 (Atlanta) yards in each of their last five games/losses. The notion that the Redskins will have to throw the ball 40 times, is not realistic. Philadelphia misses tackles on a regular basis (even with an upgraded linebacking corps, featuring DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks). Watching the Cowboys - Eagles game last week, it seemed to me like Felix Jones ran an awful lot of inside zone runs, with some traps & modified draws, exploiting the up-the-field pursuit of the Eagles wide-9 front and attack.
***The Redskins do have seven 150-yard rushing games (most in the NFL) this year - and would be looking for their ninth 100-yard team rushing performance of the year (NFL high). With much due credit and respect to Redskins PR - Washington would be able to match the most 100-yard rushing games in their first ten games, a feat they have done six times since 1970, most recently in 2000.
**TIME TO SCORE MORE - The Redskins totaled (offense & defense) 201 points in their first 7 games (28.7 PPG). In their last two losses, they've totaled just the 25 total points or (12.5 PPG). Overall, their 226 points over nine games, equals (25.1 PPG) so that is a total drop of 3.6 PPG in the last two losses. Of course, a huge part of the problem is as the offense has struggled - so has the defense in terms of generating turnovers and the points that they were feeding, either directly or off-of. While the Redskins defense currently ranks 2nd in the NFC & NFL in defensive touchdowns (4) and they are 5th in the NFC/Tied for 9th in the NFL in take-aways at 16 - the unit has not generated a turnover since having two interceptions in the Giants loss. In the last two losses, they've also had one sack combined. Not a good combo, for this defense which was fueling the Redskins offense in the first 7 weeks. The Redskins have scored 24 points on offensive series that came from turnovers, combined with the 24 points that the defense has directly scored, for a total of 48.
The good news? The Redskins haven't turned the ball over themselves in the last two games, and are a + 7 in turnover ratio (8th in NFL) and take on an Eagles team that is a eye-opening -11 (31st in NFL). They take on a rookie Quarterback in Nick Foles, who played in his first regular season game last week against Dallas. Foles played reasonably well (22-32-219- INT-TD) with the interception accounting for a touchdown return. It was more of a freak bad-bounce type of play, but ball placement is highly important and my recollection is that the pass (slant?) was behind the target, causing a freaky batted ball play.
The bad news? The Redskins as we all know are (0-8, 0-4 since 2009) in their last eight games against a rookie quarterback, and as I mentioned on twitter earlier this week - they are (3-9) against quarterbacks with 1 or 2 years of experience since 2009. Those are the only numbers I really care about (since 2009) because outside of a few defensive players (London Fletcher, Lorenzo Alexander, Kedric Golston, Reed Doughty) nobody that has any significance in Sunday's game, will even be a factor in determining the outcome.
***THIRD DOWNS DOWN - The Redskins have been pathetic in every way on both sides of the ball on third downs. While everybody concentrates on how bad the defense has been, it has to continuously be pointed out that the offense is an awful (32-112, 28.6%) on the year. After improving over the Minnesota and Giants games (12-25 combined), they are right back to levels of hideous proportions in their last two at (6-27). Staying on offense, they are (9-63, 14.3%) on 3rd & 7 + and a stellar (3-40, 7.5%) on 3rd & 10 +. That's more than 1/3 (35.7%) of the Redskins 3rd down opportunities on offense(40/112) coming on 3rd & 10 or longer. NOT GOOD.
Now onto to everybody's favorite game of "pin the tail on the donkey" with Jim Haslett conveniently (not for him) serving as the donkey and a horses rear-end, in 98% of the fan bases mind. The Redskins defense is not good. We all know that. The Redskins are allowing opposing offenses to convert on (49-112) 43.8% of their opportunities. How ironic is it that the offense and defense has faced the SAME EXACT amount of third-down situations as each other. This is not the kind of disparity you want, however. The number of 3rd & 10 + opportunities that the Redskins offense has faced (3-40) is a lot more than what the Redskins defense has forced (7-30), and again the differences are pretty revealing.
***SPECIAL TEAMS HAVEN'T BEEN SPECIAL - In addition to the blocked punts in the first two weeks, and the blocked extra point in Pittsburgh, along with disaster that was Billy Cundiff - it's safe to say that the Redskins have been on life support when it comes to the not-so special teams. Cundiff was perfect in New Orleans (4/4) and did have the GW kick in Tampa, but everything outside of that was a complete debacle. He was replaced by Kai Forbath, who is a perfect (8/8) on field goals since taking over, including (5-5) between (40-49). Sav Rocca has been gutting out his punts with a knee injury, so his numbers have OK, but less than spectacular.
Then there's Brandon Banks. The Redskins rank 29th and 19th, in punt and kickoff return average, respectively, in the NFL this season. Washington is one of 10 teams that has not scored a special teams return touchdown since the start of last season.
Banks is averaging only 6.2 yards per punt return, which ranks 24th in the league, per our ESPN 980 Redskins Insider Rich Campbell of the Washington Times, http://bit.ly/UMCeBQ. Banks is averaging 24.6 YPR on kickoffs, (19-467).
Some quick thoughts that are running out of control in my mind about the Redskins and the NFL -- and bad officiating.
**The officiating is horrendous, across the board. We know this. Nothing that I say is going to dispute that. Many games have been affected to some degree or to a large amount. The last two Redskins games have been complete debacles, and just about everybody saw the end of the Monday Night Football fiasco last night/this morning.
The comments and opinions from Kyle Shanahan, Mike Shanahan, Robert Griffin III, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, many other NFL players, former officials and analysts tell you everything you need to know. This isn't about bang-bang defensive pass interference calls, this is about getting relatively easy calls horribly wrong and not knowing the rules, or confusing them with college rules.
Lorenzo Alexander, the Redskins NFLPA player rep spoke on Monday to a few reporters about the NFLPA's efforts to get the regular officials back and said what the world feels, "They see the type of job that's going on right now, as far as the games being out of control, guys taking cheap shots -- a lot of chippiness. They're trying to get that ratified (rectified) as quickly as possible. Especially since the NFL has really put out a big campaign about player safety, concussions and all that."
Besides teams losing games because of terrible officiating, the larger overall sub-plot is player safety. Wins and losses can be made up, health and injuries are another thing. We've seen several (including Fred Davis in St. Louis) defenseless targets go un-penalized. By now, most have probably viewed the hit in the Oakland-Pittsburgh game that Ryan Mundy laid on Darrius Heyward-Bey.
This is un-healthy to say the least. For the quality of the game, for the integrity of the game and for the players that ARE the game.
**Josh Wilson's fumble recovery for the Redskins on Sunday, that was forced by Richard Crawford on BenJarvus Green-Ellis first career fumble lost, should have probably counted for a touchdown. As the DC Sports Bog laid out on Monday, http://wapo.st/RTIeHE, Wilson was never touched down nor was there any Bengals player even close. The still pictures do not show the story as well as the NFL.com video does, in my opinion - http://bit.ly/VD9gqB - that Josh Wilson truly did not recover and have full possession of the fumble/football until he was getting up or already fully up. If you watch the video, you see # 42 of the Bengals flat on his stomach and fighting for the ball, but that's a scrum and it certainly does not show any conclusive touching of a downed Wilson, AFTER, he recovers the fumble. Mike Shanahan could not challenge, because the play was called dead.
I asked Shanahan in his weekly news conference aired live on ESPN 980 every Monday about the play & apparent wrong call. "Yeah, those are the things that disappoint ya. I'm not going to go into detail on that, but instead of getting a touchdown, all of a sudden you have a turnover, that's part of the game. Sometimes it goes your way, other times it doesn't."
***A few things to defend the defense on, and specifically Jim Haslett (Satan) as most over-the-top and completely irrational Redskins fans have no balance in their viewpoint.
Jim Haslett has not done everything right, but there are many other factors at play, that fans don't always know about.
For instance, on the first play touchdown out of the wildcat for the Bengals, London Fletcher changed the defense, when he recognized a wildcat look out of the opponent, with Andy Dalton split wide and Mohamed Sanu lined up in the backfiled. It was probably the correct call, but it left the defense with absolutely no safety help over the top, because FS Madieu Williams was motioned toward the line of scrimmage. This was not Jim Haslett being unprepared, as a matter of fact - quite the opposite.
Another example of how things change, based on the orignal call was on Rob Jackson's interception and touchdown. Jackson, told me on "Monday Night Live" at Velocity 5 in Lansdowne, that he was originally supposed to rush the passer (Dalton) on the set. Instead, London Fletcher audibled and Jackson was expected to drop out in coverage on a ten-yard drop or so. Jackson, said he recognized Ryan Kerrigan's pass rush and pressure on Dalton, and then he broke his drop off and squeezed his coverage to intercept the ball.
Again, was that Jim Haslett's brilliance or a defensive adjustment by London Fletcher based on formation that allowed Jackson to be in the right spot at the right time?? Two plays, 14 points, 7 for the Redskins, 7 for the Bengals -- that had overall less to do with Jim Haslett than he is getting blame or any small amount of credit for.
There are more examples which I will expand on throughout the week.
The Washington Redskins should and need to win in Week 2 in St. Louis. That's it. Pretty simple. If they are truly back as a franchise, which many are still skeptical of, they need to step on the gas pedal early and get out of the "Gateway City" faster than I can drink a ehhh, hand grenade or maybe it was a hurricane (probably both) on Bourbon Street last Saturday.
Either way, you get the point.....If Robert Griffin III is truly the savior or the messiah as most fans think (he's not by himself) the Redskins put up 24 plus points against a pretty good and improving defense. That would be more than enough to control the offensively challenged Rams, who might struggle to get to the teens against the Redskins front-seven.
If they struggle offensively (realistic) and win - you take it and run and say - OK, time to keep improving and get better, but a 2-0 start on the road is exactly what this team needed. If they struggle offensively and lose - don't hit the panic button or give up hope - it's just part of the learning curve and the bottom line realities of the National Football League.
No matter what happens on Sunday in St. Louis, I think it's a gift. The question is - do the Redskins unwrap it and play around with it, letting it linger and take up space or do they take it, crumpled wrapping paper and all -- and put it on a shelf right away for somebody else to deal with it? Or the least desired option would be a frustrating loss, that makes a lot of Redskins Nation and the building this week, quite cranky. You might ask how that could be a gift? Well, I think a loss shows more about your character and your resolve than a win does. The Saints win was impressive, but in some ways -- this might be a tougher game.
Here are some huge keys to the game that I think are not getting enough attention:
1. RT Tyler Polumbus vs. LDE Chris Long - I fully expect the Redskins to help out Polumbus with a tight end (Niles Paul/Logan Paulsen) to chip, rub and/or double at times, the former Virginia Cavalier stand-out and pass rushing stud, but will it be enough? You might also see more of Evan Royster and Roy Helu in the backfield this week, because they are better blitz and pressure pick-up guys than starter Alfred Morris.
Last week, according to FootballOutsiders.com - Evan Royster had only three snaps and Roy Helu was in on 19 of the Redskins 76 offensive snaps and you would have to think against a much better defense (yes I said it) and better personnel (also true) that they will be counted on more, even if Morris is picking up positive yardage on the ground.
The bottom line is Polumbus will have help, and that's understandable. Long had 13 sacks last year, and four QB hits/3 pressures in last week's tight Rams loss in Detroit. He came around the edge, on the Lions go-ahead score and nearly had the sack against Matthew Stafford. This probably will not go very well for the Redskins.
2. Rams TE Lance Kendricks & RB/KR Isaiah Pead vs. Redskins safeties/LB's & coverage units - OK I know I am bringing up two things at once here - but Kendricks is 6' 3" 245 and was a 2nd round pick of the Rams previous regime, just a year ago. He's not listed as the starter, and only had two catches for 16 yards in Week 1, but from people you talk to that know the Rams -- Kendricks is the guy to watch out for.
Also have to keep in mind that London Fletcher was beaten three times last week in very tight coverage by the freak that is Jimmy Graham. Now Graham is a completely different target, but it bears mentioning if the Rams can get the play-action game going, with Steven Jackson making the Redskins respect the run and the linebackers freezing a bit, perhaps the Rams can split some coverage in some pocket areas, or try and draw Madieu Williams into one-on-one coverage.
In the last two games he has played, Williams has been beaten in man-coverage for two touchdowns (Indianapolis/New Orleans) and the Rams have to feel they have an advantage, with either TE Kendricks, WR Danny Amendola (did not play vs. Skins last year) or WR Brandon Gibson. One step further, Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer frequently targeted Dustin Keller and several other TE's including Rams listed starter, Matthew Mulligan when they were together with the New York Jets.
As for Pead, he can hurt the Redskins in a number of ways, but primarily as a kick returner and extra running back that might be deployed as an outlet receiver and be able to get to the perimeter in relief of Steven Jackson. He was very limited last week, but in the preseason, had a vicious one-cut 28 yard run against the Ravens.
3. Brandon Banks and new LS Justin Snow - Snow is obvious, as he just got here on Tuesday and had three days to get timing with Sav Rocca and Billy Cundiff down for punts and field goals. Also, it goes without saying that the Rams are going to test the Redskins punt and field goal units up the middle anyways, because of the blown assignment last week (presumably Chris Wilson) and because of the field goal blocking issues last year. Snow will need to get his head up, hold his ground and help close the gap.
As for Banks, everybody knows that last week he had two fumbles but did not lose either one. One fumble was well after the catch, and on the return - while the other was at the point of the catch. That was the more alarming one. Banks had a fumble and his own recovery last year at the Edward Jones Dome, so it could be that he is struggling with seeing the ball clearly in domes. He also struggled to catch another punt in the game here last year, but did catch it.
I don't believe the Redskins will be in position to waste any opportunities against a very much improved Rams defense. A Banks lost fumble could be a huge momentum swing.
**The Redskins should take advantage of their former teammate Rocky McIntosh, who is the starting strong-side linebacker for St. Louis - and figures to draw some matchups with the Redskins tight ends, who were not heavily featured in last week's win in New Orleans.
**The defensive line should have their way in this game, going against a banged up LT Rodger Saffold, and the Rams third string left guard (Shelley Smith or Quinn Ojinnaka) along with their former starting left guard, who is now playing center in Robert Turner. The bottom line is, the Redskins should not have to blitz much to generate major pressure on Sam Bradford, but he will very likely counter and use a lot of 3 -5 step drops against the Redskins pressure.
Last year, Stephen Bowen had a sack-and-a-half, while Brian Orakpo (essentially a defensive lineman most of the time) had 2.5 sacks. Former Ram DE, Adam Carriker also had a sack.